Nestled in the foothills of the Pennines sits a town called Macclesfield. Driving through, our host points out several crumbling buildings, evidently the victims of fire, neglect or simply the ageing effects of time. These are the dilapidated mills of yesteryear, no longer functioning but still a nostalgic reminder of a time when Macclesfield – aka ‘Silk Town’ - was lauded as the country’s biggest producer of finished silk. But all is not lost – one stoic Victorian mill remains, and its survival is testament to its superiority. Adamley has been there for the best part of six decades, and is busier now than ever before. One look at the mill’s extraordinary archives tells us their background and history is enormous, just like the shelves that sigh beneath the weight of beautiful leather bound archive books, full of intricate prints, designs, paisleys and geometric shapes, so it’s no surprise we called upon the mill’s limitless experience to help us bring our project to life.
Joanne Ratcliffe, Adamley’s Design Director, explains that many moons ago printing was done using giant blocks and hand-carved designs made with wooden shapes or manipulated wire. With these, the margin for error was tremendous – accuracy was impossible and standards of the prints that resulted were much lower than they are now. Today, the silk screen-printing process that Adamley is so well known for could not be more different. Their printing room contains two hand printing tables and three galis (automatic printing tables). Strung between the tables are lengths of intricately printed patterned fabric, some details no bigger than a pinhead, and watching the printers work is utterly mesmerising.
Brackets protrude at regular intervals from each table, upon which the screens are placed, before a pool of dye is applied with a squeegee. The printers themselves display an intuition and an intensively trained eye for the nuances of the table – they work for many years to gain the instinct and skills that have now become second nature. Printer Tim Corbishley and Layer Mick Graves have collectively worked at Adamley for more than 45 years, which goes to show their passion for their craft. One can’t help but be in total awe of their work, and there is an authenticity – and integrity – in the fact that, in an age where we can send human beings to the moon and back, two gentlemen are still passing a squeegee back and forth for the sake of art.